'Guardian angels' watch over Conn
KNOX — Kathleen Conn collects angels.
Some are cherubic, like cupids. Others are languorous and svelte with long, flowing locks. More than two dozen light in different places in her cozy Hilltown home.
“They’re my guardian angels,” Conn said. “I have lots. I think they’re pretty.”
Conn has painted one angel that is half as tall as she. A gift from her husband, it is a commanding presence in her living room. She gave the angel blonde hair and blue eyes, a white dress and white, feathered wings.
The angel’s hands are clasped in prayer, and from her wrists hangs a plaque that says “Home, sweet home.”
Home means a lot to Conn. She grew up — one of eight siblings, six boys and two girls — in a family without enough money to buy a home. Her father, a fisherman, ran a bait shop near the Hudson. Her mother worked odd jobs, as a waitress and cook.
Conn and her husband, Warren, are proud of the red brick home they own on Middle Road in Knox. They met on a blind date 40 years ago, set up by Warren Conn’s cousin. “I was taking care of their children. We went bowling. That was it,” said Conn.
Five years later, the Conns had bought the home where they still live today. Warren Conn, now 64, worked a number of jobs including as a mechanic and painter.
“He’s disabled. We’ve had some really rough times,” said Conn, detailing her husband’s ailments. He suffered a heart attack, has had nine operations for hernias, and is legally blind.
“We’re managing,” said Conn. “We fought for this,” she said of having and keeping their home.
To her, it represents independence. The couple has no children.
“I grew up with nothing,” said Conn. “We worked hard for this. We appreciate it.”
Kathleen Conn, 61, is also disabled. She was injured in a car accident in 2001, suffers from disc problems with her back, and has had her knees replaced.
She used to work as a nurse’s aid and at a supermarket and does “little jobs here and there,” she said.
“You have to keep going,” she said.
What keeps her going?
“I love doing things for people,” said Conn.
She volunteers once a month at the Hilltowns Community Resource Center, run by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany.
“I do whatever I can to help them. They’ve been such a help to us,” she said. “Without them, we couldn’t make it.”
Conn went on, “We had trouble with our lights and ran out of fuel oil…They’re a godsend….And, when we needed food, they were there.”
Conn has gotten groceries at the resource center’s food pantry. She loves to garden, and raises both flowers and vegetables in her yard.
“I like working on my flowers,” she says; she has four flowerbeds. “It’s peaceful and pretty.”
She also grows green beans, string beans, tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplants, and cucumbers.
“I freeze everything,” Conn said, noting that, if she needs advice on putting up food for winter, she calls her sister-in-law, who used to work for the cooperative extension.
Sometimes, though, when the homegrown food doesn’t stretch far enough, Conn relies on the resource center’s food pantry.
Besides helping out at the resource center, Conn gives back through things she makes. She does beadwork, to make jewelry — earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.
Right now, she is crocheting hats and scarves as Christmas gifts for her nieces and nephews. “We don’t buy gifts for each other,” she said. “We make them with what we have.”
Conn is also beloved for the cookies she bakes and gives. This Christmas, she is planning to bake peanut-butter cookies, chocolate-chip cookies, and macadamia treats with white chocolate.
To decorate for Christmas, Conn plans to use a foot-high tree her sister gave her earlier. “She took two logs and put on a fake tree and decorated it. She’s very creative,” said Conn. She doesn’t want to hurry the Christmas holiday, though, and won’t bring out the tree, to set it in place, in front of the window, until after Thanksgiving. “I don’t want to rush,” she said.
Conn will be getting together with many of her siblings and their offspring for Christmas to celebrate in her brother’s garage. That’s the only place the 30 or 40 family members can fit, she said.
“We all make a dish and bring it,” said Conn.
This will be the first family Christmas gathering without her mother, who died this year.
“My mom made Christmas for us…,” said Conn. “This year, after she passed, they found money in her account,” said Conn, through tears. That money, set aside by her mother, will be used so the family can “have Christmas,” she said.
Conn has a lot of good memories of Christmastime from her childhood. One gift stands out from those early years.
When she was 10, she recalled, “I was told I would not get anything. There was no money.” But, nevertheless, she got the best gift ever — a typewriter.
It was a manual and she would type out recipes and poems that she liked from the newspaper, which she would give to friends.
Asked what she’d like for a Christmas gift this year, Conn said, “Gifts don’t really matter. I’ve got everything I need.”